Digital Guyana

Week 3 – Content skills

Posted on: August 7, 2009

After teaching the groups how to make websites using HTML and the blogging platform WordPress.com we focused on best practice in terms of design and content in the afternoon session of week three.

I chatted about various aspects of good design and content under several headings and demonstrated some good and bad examples. We then asked the groups to write a blog post on their WordPress sites which mentioned three of the points I raised.

(Before starting I stressed that the following were not ‘rules’ per say, more ‘things to bear in mind’ when setting up and adding content to a website).

Thanks to Adrienne Grubb for the use of a few slides from a previous PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the fold, page hot spots and the Poynter Institute stat on images.

Part 1. Good design

Keep it simple

  • It’s no coincidence that many of the most popular websites, Google, Facebook, Wikipedia etc, are really easy to navigate.
  • On the other hand, if a web user is confused by your site they will just click away.
  • Good: WWF / Bad: The five worst website designs in the world

The Fold

  • A similar concept to a newspaper’s fold, the fold on a web page is the bottom of your web browser when the home page has loaded.
  • But some say the fold is dead. And it will be different in different browsers depending on screen resolutions.
  • However, it’s useful to bear in mind. So it should obviously be clear what your website’s purpose is from what is above the fold.
  • Good: The Guardian / Bad (this website is just bad for a whole lot of reasons): www.belladesoto.us

Page hot spots

  • Various bits of worryingly detailed research into where people look first on web pages has shown slightly different things… rocketface.com / textgoeshere.org.uk / blog.eyetools.net
  • …but all agree that the top left is key.
  • Like the fold, it’s something to bear in mind, so it makes sense to have the title of the website and links to important pages near the top left.
  • Good: Most blogs, including this one, not to blow our own trumpet…

Scannability

  • People scan web pages much more than they would a newspaper or magazine because they can click away in an instant. Useful resource on the topic.
  • This is linked to the 10-second rule. Web users often spend as little as 10 seconds scanning a web page to see if it has anything of interest for them.
  • But you can slow down web users eyes or increase your website’s ‘scannability’ through bold tags, headings, links, bullet points, images.
  • Good: Zopa

Images

  • Images are obviously very important to help you break up text.
  • More scientific proof: a Poynter Institute study in 2004 found that 78% of users will look first at the words on your page first but 22% of users look at the pictures or graphics first. So, you need to cater for both kinds of people.
  • Human faces are good. They gives a site warmth, people can identify with them, they’re instantly recognizable.
  • But images need to be good, eye-catching and complementary to what you’re writing about. A rubbish image will make your website look, er, rubbish.
  • Good: Action Aid/ Bad: A boring web page

Typography

  • The difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts.
  • It’s generally easier to read Sans Serif (Arial/ Helvetica etc) online than Serif (Times New Roman) – and vice versa for print.
  • Sans Serif fonts include Helvetica, Arial, Tahoma and Verdana.
  • Useful bit of info, including advice on font size.
  • Good: BBC / Bad: New York Times
  • Also, the colour of text should be easily readable. Don’t use yellow text on white, for example, or blue on purple – you won’t be able to see clicked on links.
  • Also avoid using loads of uppercase / exclamation marks. IT’S LIKE SHOUTING!!!

Part 2. Good content

Title and tagline

  • If you want your site to be found it needs to be something relevant to what your site is about.
  • You might also want to try for something catchy and original to mark yourself out from the crowd.
  • Think about using a tagline. A great way to explain what your website is all about.
  • Good (tagline): Save The Children / Bad: Great blog but unless you’re familiar with the phrase you wouldn’t immediately know it was about cool stuff happening in Birmingham.
  • And watch out for.

Headings

  • In newspapers headlines can be clever and cryptic, but online they need to be more relevant and descriptive due to scannability (so users know what your post is about) and Search Engine Optimisation (so your website can be found).
  • Also see.
  • Good: The Guardian/ Bad: Blog post on great tabloid headlines (because they don’t won’t work so well online).

Paragraphs

  • Unless you’re doing a thoughtful blog post you really need to make your point in your first paragraph. Otherwise, users will get bored or confused and click away.
  • People are put off by long paragraphs so try to break up them up into shorter ones.

Links

  • Follow web conventions (different colours, change colour when clicked), otherwise you’ll confuse people.
  • Don’t put click here – this looks bad and doesn’t help Search Engine Optimisation.
  • Links in text are good but don’t overdo it.
  • Many external links will increase traffic to your site due to trackbacks and pingbacks. They will also enhance the credibility of a site.
  • But they need to be relevant – and hopefully good. Otherwise they’ll make you look a bit foolish.
  • Good: Pontus’s blog/ Bad (but because they overdo it): teacherxpress.com

Importance of spelling and grammar

  • If your site has spelling errors and grammatical mistakes it will look very unprofessional and people will click away.
  • It doesn’t take long to check over your work. If you can it’s worth printing to check for mistakes – you’ll spot more errors than on screen. Or get someone else to check your work – a fresh pair of eyes spots more mistakes.
  • Use a spelling and grammar check in Word / Open Office. But make sure you don’t paste straight into a blogging / Content Management System software – put in in Notepad first.

Informal

  • Writing for the web is in general more informal and often more fun than many newspapers, magazines and books. Even on sites focusing on more serious issues.
  • People use the web for entertainment as well as information. And the best sites and blogs are entertaining as well as informative.

Shorter is better

  • Remember scannability and that it’s actually harder to read on a computer screen. People read around 25% slower online compared to books, magazines and newspapers.
  • So shorter is better.

Engage

  • It’s well worth thinking about how users can interact with your site. This will give them more ownership of the site and give them more reasons to come back.
  • Blogs are great at this because they allow people to comment. And if you link to other blogs they will get trackbacks – and vice versa – so more traffic.
  • Other ways you could do this include creating a mailing list or a forum or getting visitors to vote on something using a poll.

More useful links:

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1 Response to "Week 3 – Content skills"

[…] to come up with titles and taglines for the websites. As previously explained in my workshop on content skills, a website’s title should be relevant and descriptive – and hopefully memorable too […]

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